ICPO launches ad hoc district bodies to address youth gangs

Members of the ad hoc committees formed to address gangsterism among the youth meet at the Iloilo City Police Office on Feb 16, 2022. (Joseph B.A. Marzan)

By Joseph B.A. Marzan

The Iloilo City Police Office (ICPO) on Wednesday, Feb 16, 2022, in partnership with the Iloilo City government, launched ad hoc committees in the city’s seven districts to address the perceived surge of youth gangs in the city.

Elizabeth Hechanova from the City Social Welfare and Development Office (CSWDO) said that the rationale for the creation of the committees are to:

–       create a crime-free barangay;

–       identify a specific red flag area per district;

–       establish strong network in monitoring cases or incidence affecting the general safety and security; and

–       establish a crime-free community which resulted to more investment and more job opportunities.

“The prime goal why we are here is to create a child-friendly society where children and youth are protected against circumstances that can cause harm to their development as a whole,” Hechanova said.

The new ad hoc committees will be led by social workers from the CSWDO, with representatives from the Association of Barangay Captains, ICPO Women and Children’s Protection Desk, the Department of Education-Alternative Learning System (DepED-ALS), the Iloilo City Task Force on Moral and Values Formation, and the City Health Office, as well as members of civil society organizations and other relevant groups.

The committees will take on an eight-step process with a general objective of a crime-free barangay, including the setting of target schedules, composition of the committee, identifying “Red Flag Areas”, prioritization, identifying strategic mechanisms, security fencing, utilization of Barangay Committees on Peace and Order, and frequent updating through reports.

ICPO Director Col. Leo Batiles, to whom Hechanova attributed the idea of the creation of these committees, said in his welcoming remarks that the creation was part of their “legal obligation and moral responsibility” to save the youth from lawlessness in society.

Batiles emphasized the need for a “clear, long-lasting program” that would have an impact to the city’s youth in the rise of gangs and other juvenile delinquencies.

He noted that the initiative was “soft launched” back in January 2022 as part of implementing the city’s curfew period and the ICPO’s operations on minors.

“This is our legal obligation, being a member of the government, and part of our moral responsibility to address this problem involving minors, and we have, in our minds, to save them from any lawlessness in the society. We want to save them from being involved in any criminal or evil acts,” Batiles said.

Batiles also told media after the event that the committees were created to enhance collaboration between the local government, law enforcement, and civil society.

The city police chief added that these were extensions of the city police’s “Batang Pandemya” program which involves visitation, counseling, and community engagement, among others, to help development and reformation of youth who are involved mainly in gangs and other criminal activity.

“We want to give additional programs and activities [for the youth] and the members [of the ad hoc committees] to act because they have participation here. We created the ad hoc committees for collaboration and coordination among the agencies involved. We will give them the corresponding programs from the concerned agencies who are involved with the committee,” he added.

Hechanova also said that the committees will hit the ground running, with capacity-building workshops to begin today, February 17.

Data from the ICPO Women and Children’s Desk from January to February 16 indicated that 190 minors were rescued during nightly saturation drives from 22 new gang groups with 149 identified members.